Snorkeling Florida: 50 Excellent Sites interview with Brad Bertelli
Q: What inspired you to write Snorkeling Florida: 50 Excellent Sites?
A: Before moving to the Florida Keys in 2001, I wrote fiction. I had just graduated with my MFA from the University of Miami and sent my newly enhanced resume everywhere I could. As a result my first paying gig as a writer was with the “Florida Scuba News.” I’ve always loved snorkeling and suddenly I was immersed in the water culture of the Keys. What came to my attention was that while there were countless books on scuba diving in Florida, no one was writing about the snorkeling. There were snorkeling guides for Hawaii, Guam, the Virgin Islands, but very little directed solely at snorkelers. I wrote a book proposal to the University Press of Florida and here we are.
Q: What are some of the most memorable snorkeling experiences you've had in Florida?
A: I was sitting out back on the dock working on a story for the “Scuba News” when I saw a seahorse swim by. The crest of its head was cutting the surface of the water like the tiniest dorsal fin from a minuscule shark. I am endlessly thrilled whenever parrotfish are near. I like listening to them feed on the corals which sounds, to me, like celery being chomped. Swimming down the jetty at Destin Pass up in the panhandle I saw a flounder resting up on one of the rocks. I’d never seen a flounder before. The most memorable experience would have to be the baby manatee in King’s River that took my arm in its flipper and pulled my hand to the cradle of its soft chin.
Q: What is so great about snorkeling in Florida?
A: Warm crystal clear turquoise waters, coral reefs, sunken Spanish galleons, fresh water springs, rivers, manatees—I could go on. In terms of snorkeling in mainland North America, Florida is the only destination.
Q: Are there any misconceptions about snorkeling in Florida?
A: The biggest misconception about snorkeling in Florida waters are the prominence of man eating sharks. There are sharks in the water and relative precautions should always be followed. Don’t snorkel at dusk or dawn. Always snorkel with a buddy and never with an open wound. I was snorkeling at Looe Key when I had my first bona fide shark encounter. It was a five foot Caribbean reef shark. It was so close I had to resist the urge to reach out and stroke it. They are beautiful, magnificent fish and totally get a bad rap here in Florida. The odds of winning the lottery twice in the same year are greater than getting bitten by a shark.
Q: What is your favorite spring for snorkeling? Your favorite coastal area?
A: To be perfectly honest, these springs are my least favorite snorkeling environments and only because I hate cold water. For those who can take the cold, they can prove magnificent for their clarity alone, but the springs are not for me. Having said that, my answer is the springs Rainbow Springs. The spring is beautiful, but the Rainbow River is an excellent environment. As for coastal Florida, it all depends on my mood. The southwest coastline, the southeast coastline, and the panhandle all have something a little different to offer. Each offers the chance for an amazing adventure. Much of any individual experience revolves on being at the right place at the right time and that happens everywhere.
Q: What do you think about using snorkeling equipment that is offered on a snorkeling tour: OK, or bring your own?
A: If you have your own equipment, bring it. The biggest bother with rental equipment is leaky masks. Not all masks fit all faces and nothing can ruin a perfect day out on the water faster than a leaky mask. Should you fall victim to leaky rental equipment there are two options. First off, immediately ask for another mask. Sometimes this will work and sometimes it won’t. Some snorkeling charters stow their equipment back at the dock and some right there on the boat. Should exchanging your mask out for another not be an option, be sure to bring along a tube of lip balm. Determine where the mask is leaking and smear the balm on your skin in the general area. Be liberal.
Q: Where did you go the last time you went snorkeling?
A: The last place I went snorkeling was Founder’s Park on Plantation Key. It is only a couple miles from my house. I saw the biggest seahorse I have ever seen. It had its prehensile tail wrapped around the base of a feathery purple coral. Five minutes later I was surrounded by five manatees.
Q: Where is the best place to snorkel right from a beach?
A: Hands down, Bahia Honda State Park in the Keys is the best beach snorkel in the whole of the Sunshine State.
If you want to learn more about snorkeling in Florida, Brad's book Snorkeling Florida: 50 Excellent Sites is perfect.